Ethnic violence in Sudan has displaced more than 1 million people, including 400,000 to 500,000 children. Christine Knudsen, a District resident who is a protection specialist with Save the Children, is among those working to help victims who face hunger, disease and continued assaults. Knudsen, 37, who lives in Southwest, recently left for her third trip to Sudan in five months. She spoke by phone last week with staff writer Karlyn Barker about programs to assist children caught up in the conflict.
QWhat is happening in Sudan?
AThere has been long-running tension between Arab nomads and the African farmers, disputes over territory, land and water, and it's escalated. The government-armed militia has been allowed to conduct raids.
Villages have been burned to the ground, cattle stolen, water sources destroyed and people forced to move into camps. . . .
We get so wrapped up in Washington with national politics, but there's so much more going on in the world.
What has been the impact on these refugee families?
It's a very precarious time. Camps have been set up throughout Darfur, a region in western Sudan that is roughly the size of France. Food and clean water [are] a problem. And with so many people living in tight quarters, there is poor sanitation and hygiene. Food and shelter will be an even worse crisis when the rainy season starts.
What is the biggest problem they face?
One of the biggest is the continued violence. The militia is circling around the camps and killing men when they leave and raping women and beating children. Every week there are many reported cases of women and adolescent girls, and younger, who leave camp to get water or firewood or grass to feed the animals and they fall prey to attack and rape.
What is Save the Children doing to help?
Save the Children is the largest provider of humanitarian services in West Darfur. We've provided food to 280,000 people and shelter to thousands. We're setting up play and recreation areas so children will have a chance to be children again.
We're helping children who have been separated from their families find them. Also, the school year will be starting in a couple of months.
We're exploring setting up classrooms or getting refugee children into local classrooms.
How did you get involved in this kind of work?
I'm from a very small town on the Kansas prairie, Burlingame. I came to the Washington area in 1989, got my master's degree in international relations at Johns Hopkins University and started doing a lot of volunteer work with needy people in the United States.
I've been doing this type of relief work since 1995.
Is it hard to return home after seeing so much suffering?
Having those experiences really helps me keep things in focus in Washington. I don't get too upset when the bus is late. I don't get too upset when the store is out of my brand of yogurt.
I see that families in Darfur want the same things as families want in Washington: They want a better future for their children.
Even when people are facing the most dire circumstances, they want to make life better for their children.